As a guest, events are probably the last place you want to be when you have dietary limitations. Think of the all-day conference that can go for hours. Who wants to bring their own Whole 30 compliant energy bars or Lean Protein approved snacks when there are so many delicious trays passed appetizers and enticing buffets around? Certainly not us, especially when you have to explain to everyone around you why you’re not partaking of all the amazing options. Food and drinks bring people together, which is why they are vital for the success of any event, and why it’s important to meet the needs of your guests, no matter what allergies, diets or preferences they have.
These days, it seems like there are more dietary restrictions popping up, and as event planners and as a team who has members that are vegetarians, gluten-free and allergic to strawberries, we understand the struggle. Here are our recommendations on how to do the best you can with your event to keep your guests happy, not hungry.
What type of event you’re hosting
All-day conference? Time to get down to details with the caterer in an in-person meeting or on a conference call. After work hours networking event from 6-8PM? You can afford to be a little more lenient with your food selections. Think of it this way, if your guest is relying on you for more than one meal, you need to take dietary restraints into consideration. However, if they can easily go home after the event is over or order take out on the drive back, you’re not as responsible for meeting all of their needs…but the gesture is always appreciated.
What to put on the menu
Nowadays, it’s pretty natural to assume that you might have a vegetarian, vegan, lactose-intolerant or gluten-intolerant guest at your event. As such, it’s important to always have a few options for each of these kinds of guests, just to be on the safe side. A veggie plate with several different dips is always welcomed, as is a charcuterie plate with meat, cheese and fruit options available, with or without the bread. Once you cover those bases, feel free to add anything else you’d like to your menu. Even if these particular guests cannot partake, they’ll appreciate that there are a few things there for them that are easy to munch on without second guessing the ingredients.
Another easy way to save yourself a headache is to put out place cards in front of each dish, identifying all of its ingredients, even down to the seasonings, if possible. This will allow each guest to make their own choices on what to put on their plate, and what to pass over in the buffet line. A simple stamp system can also be integrated, to show if the dish is vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, dairy-free, or if it contains nuts. If you go with tray pass instead, make sure the catering and service teams are well-versed in the ingredients of each dish so they can answer any guests’ questions.
Talk to your guests
Depending on your guest list and if it’s an open invitation or an RSVP requested, it also doesn’t hurt to ask your guests of any particular dietary needs. This doesn’t have to be a field for every single guest to fill out, as it doesn’t apply to everyone. Instead, at the bottom of your event website, e-vite or invitation, make a brief statement to the effect of: “If you have any dietary restrictions or requests, please make sure to notify our team by contacting us at (email) by (date).” Your guests who do fall under those categories will be sure to alert you, and will appreciate the added gesture. Alternatively, if your venue or caterer is less amenable to customizing the menu, be sure to ask them for a full list of ingredients, and let guests know that they can contact you for meal specifics prior to the event, giving them time to plan ahead without any surprises.
When planning meals for your menu, just remember this simple phrase: happy, not hungry.